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Your Musical Theatre Resource for Southern California!

older | 1 | .... | 25 | 26 | (Page 27)

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    Charity Angél Dawson, Desi Oakley and Lenne Klingaman.
    All photos by Joan Marcus

    Can eating a pie be a religious experience? It can if it was made by Jenna, the diner waitress in the Broadway musical Waitress, who turns ordinary ingredients like butter, sugar, and flour into mouthwatering slices of life in a pie tin.


    Her magical creations run the gamut from Deep (Shit) Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie and Mermaid Marshmallow Pie, to Lonely Chicago Pie and I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie. Each one encapsulates an incident ripped from the headlines of real life and together they create the backbone of this heartwarming story of female empowerment.

    The musical was inspired by the 2007 indie film starring Keri Russell as Jenna, the pie baker stuck in an abusive marriage who finds the courage to reach for something better, along with Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly (who also wrote and directed the film). It opened on Broadway in March of 2016, where it is still enjoying great success, and its national tour - a quietly radiant production - is now playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through August 26th. An Australian tour is planned for 2020. There’s no denying this brand of sugar is a popular commodity.

    The story mirrors that of the film and a great deal of the dialogue is incorporated into the stage adaptation by bookwriter Jessie Nelson, who has a gift for writing dialogue that actually sounds like the characters. Nelson retains the film’s folksy charm but adds more comedy and a few new personal details with amusing payoffs.

    Lenne Klingaman, Desi Oakley, and Charity Angél Dawson

    For instance, Jenna’s new gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart) is “off sugar” when he meets Jenna (Desi Oakley) during her first pre-natal visit, a character trait I don’t think he had in the movie (or if he did it wasn’t nearly this comical), but it fits his quirkier stage personality and sets up a clash between them from the start. He’s no match for Jenna’s baking, however, and one taste of her pie has him eating out of her hand...and forgetting about his sugar-free diet.

    Of course, their attraction comes with complications. They’re both married - he to a doctor doing her residency in Jenna’s town, she to a disagreeable husband, Earl (Nick Bailey), whose obsessive behavior has choked the joy right out of her life. It isn’t long before a secret romance begins.

    The musical builds on the film’s inherent eccentricities and delivers its message with warmth, honesty, and a heaping helping of heart. Much of its sensitivity can be attributed to pop songstress and storyteller Sarah Bareilles (“Love Song,” “Brave”) who wrote the score for the show. Her soulful sound and open-hearted lyrics are an alluring combination that helps create characters who sing what they think in individual musical styles that match their unique personalities.

    Oakley, who plays Jenna, has a voice as sweet and rich as Bareilles herself and is the emotional center of the show. Jenna’s journey from the resigned acceptance of a “happy enough” life to a renewed desire for real happiness is a heartfelt one and Oakley has the depth, likeability, and dry wit to make you want to come along with her. She is dubbed the “Queen of kindness and goodness” by her friend and fellow Waitress, Dawn (Lenne Klingaman), a fitting title for the woman whose pie keeps bringing people together and Oakley wears it as comfortably as a second skin. Each of her songs is a knockout but her eleven o’clock number “She Used to Be Mine” is the best of the best. Oakley sings a lifetime into four and a half minutes that will alternately break your heart, lift you up, and echo your own inner longings.

    Klingaman’s Dawn is a socially awkward, self-deprecating single girl who Jenna and Becky (Charity Angél Dawson) finally convince to try online dating. Her five minute date is a bust but Ogie (a wacky, overly-caffeinated Jeremy Morse) knows they were meant for each other and shows up the next morning with flowers and a declaration of love.

    Lenne Klingaman and Jeremy Morse

    Never has an actor earned a reprise with more panache than Morse does with his over-the-top “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me.” Klingaman is hard-put to resist him when she finds out he has done even more Revolutionary War reenactments as Paul Revere than she has as Betsy Ross. Watching these two misfits fall in love on stage is geeky to the core and wonderfully sweet.

    Dawson is also blessed with great pipes and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude as Becky. She’s an R&B belter who can grind out the high notes and throw a mean side eye with enough sass to check you when you least expect it. Becky is married (it’s complicated) but is secretly carrying on with Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin), the short order cook at the diner. When she sings “I Didn’t Plan It” we see how life has thrown each of the characters in Waitress a curve and we come to understand that the true beauty of living is in how we manage its messiness.

    Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Lorin Latarro work this idea into the fabric of the show. Scenes, and scenes within scenes, blend into each other like a dance as set pieces roll on and off (including the excellent band) in a flurry of coordinated motion. Impulses for movement come from the body itself, often like a heartbeat pulsing softly and sweetly from within. It’s a very fluid style built on externalizing the internal that creates an exquisite expression of the complex emotions people don’t reveal. To see it coordinated flawlessly is quite beautiful. In this ensemble, every single member is important to the overall effect and there are no loose threads among them.

    Even Joe, the finicky owner of the diner has his own way of coping with life’s endless annoyances. Larry Marshall captures the spirit of this gruff old curmudgeon who’s secretly hiding a heart of gold, at least where Jenna is concerned. Maiesha McQueen (Nurse Norma) is memorable in her short stage time as the no-nonsense nurse who knows what’s going on and is determined to get some pie of her own out of that knowledge.

    Maiesha McQueen, Desi Oakley, and Bryan Fenkart

    Vocally, the show sounds terrific. Ryan Cantwell has finessed the material until its nuances shine through with an easy grace. Harmonies, particularly among the main trio of waitresses, are sublime, and will stand out to musicians who love the sound of voices shimmering when they resonate together.

    So much ingenuity and heart has gone into the making of Waitress by its all-female creative team, a Broadway first but hopefully not the last, that you’re bound to leave feeling a whole lot better than when you walked into the theater. That’s worth it every time, in my book. And if pie-pop heaven is a thing, I’d say Waitress has taken us there and served up a slice of its finest counter goodness.

    WAITRESS
    August 2 – 26, 2018
    Hollywood Pantages Theatre
    6233 Hollywood Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA 90028
    Tickets: www.hollywoodpantages.com

    Nick Bailey and Desi Oakley

    Desi Oakley and Larry Marshall

    Ryan G. Dunkin and the ladies of Waitress

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    L-R: Dawnn Lewis, Michael Starr, Kelley Dorney, Larry Cedar and Valerie Perri

    Somewhere between its opening of
    Sweet Charity in late June and the end of July, Reprise 2.0 postponed its second scheduled production of its inaugural season, Victor/Victoria. In its place, the company has mounted a revival of Kander & Ebb’s musical revue, The World Goes ‘Round, and, while it isn’t a rarely revived book musical, which has always been Reprise’s focus in the past, it does contain a score derived from some of the best songs in the classic Kander & Ebb catalogue (think Chicago and Cabaret).

    Director Richard Israel sets the revue in a chic upscale nightclub where five singers decked out in evening wear reflect on life and love in the familiar cabaret style. Backing them, and placed on stage in full view, are musical director Gerald Sternbach and his 7-piece all-male orchestra. It’s a rare opportunity to watch the musicians in action along with the singers, and a hallmark of Reprise’s singular style.

    Israel’s production is impressively sleek, with comedy in the movement, courtesy of his and choreographer John Todd’s creative tongue-in-cheek approach, and a winning cast of five distinct personalities: Dawnn Lewis, Valerie Perri, Larry Cedar, Kelley Dorney, and Michael Starr. Todd does a nice job of adding choreography for “singers who move” plus a couple of specialties for those with a little more dance training, but the big focus is on the singing.

    Valerie Perri

    Each cast member brings a unique quality to the show, with Lewis and Perri as the doyennes of the group commiserating about the deterioration of morals and manners in the entertaining duet “Class” from Chicago and acknowledging their individual longings in emotionally-rich solos. Lewis uses a hard brassy belt on the opening title song “And the World Goes ‘Round” from New York, New York and an even stronger power belt on “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret to convey her determined resilience, while Perri loses herself in the poignant and fragile memories of “Isn’t This Better” from Funny Lady and The Rink’s“Colored Lights.”

    That particular number shows off a gorgeous lighting effect byJared A. Sayeg in which colored lights are sprayed across the stage ending with a pink spotlight on Perri and a brilliant rainbow of colors suspended over her. It’s one of a number of breathtaking effects Sayeg creates where lighting takes on the function of a living, breathing character in its own right but he never overplays it.

    In lesser hands, the lighting for a song like the title number from Kiss of the Spider Woman would most likely replicate a spider web but instead Sayeg only suggests it. He uses a geometric pattern that doesn’t hit you over the head but still effectively adds a mysterious vibe to the song. It’s elegant and refined work that balances subtlety with front-and-center concepts to create a big impact.

    Photo by Ellen Dostal

    His lighting also makes scenic designer Stephen Gifford’s sophisticated nightclub set look expensive. Ornate openwork wood panels hang above the orchestra, which is positioned on an elevated platform behind the singers and framed with a warm cutout railing. The wall-to-wall stairs and floorshow area in front of it are where the singers strut their stuff.

    When not performing, cast members watch the show while seated at one of two cocktail tables on either side of the stage, along with the audience. The illusion is of an intimate setting that opens up to sustain the larger emotional worlds contained in the music with only a change in Sayeg’s lighting. As a team, Gifford and Sayeg are hard to beat. If there was such a thing as the “Dynamic Duo” of Design, they’d be breaking out their superhero capes on a regular basis and saving visual atrocities on stages from Gotham to the City of Angels nightly.

    An energetic Dorney is most effective when she plays it simple, as she does for her best song of the night, “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, The Red Menace. Starr’s high notes are a stretch but it almost doesn’t matter. He’s the bare-chested beefcake that makes Perri’s life worth living in “Arthur in the Afternoon” from The Act, a little-known star vehicle Kander & Ebb wrote for Liza Minelli that won her a Tony Award. It’s unlikely you’ll remember anything else he’s done in the show after he takes his shirt off but that, of course, is the point.

    Cedar’s easy manner as a singer (and yes, dancer) is beautifully understated, which makes a pleasing contrast to the belting and fast-paced attack in many of the other songs. His love song to pastries - “Sara Lee,” also from The Act - is priceless. In “We Can Make It” from The Rink, he plays it smooth and lets the lyricism of the song inspire the audience. And, in his most recognizable solo - “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago - he again uses his natural charm to gain empathy without turning the song into a big presentational number.

    The cast of The World Goes 'Round

    Five soloists with five different vocal styles means the blend doesn’t always gel when they sing together but it is the solos and small numbers that make the show memorable and, in their own corners, each artist excels.

    It’s also great to hear these lesser-known Kander & Ebb songs infused with so much life, since the musicals themselves aren’t often produced. Perhaps there is a New York, New York, Funny Lady or Woman of the Year waiting in the wings to be produced on the west coast at some point. For now, Reprise’s The World Goes ‘Round is as close as you’ll get to hearing the songs that made Kander & Ebb famous in a theatrical setting.

    The World Goes ‘Round is conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson, and presented by Reprise 2.0 in association with the UCLA TFT Department of Theater.

    Dawnn Lewis



    THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND

    September 5 - 16, 2018
    Reprise 2.0 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse
    UCLA - North Campus
    245 Charles E. Young E Drive
    Los Angeles, CA 90095
    Tickets and info: 800-982-2787 or www.Reprise2.org
    Photo credit: Michael Lamont

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    L-R: Jenni Marie Lopez, Brooke Van Grinsven, Leslie Rubino and Samantha
    LaBrecque. All photos by Corwin Evans

    How much rage would a person need to feel to kill two people with 29 whacks of an axe? The short answer is, a lot. That’s the number Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby actually sustained in 1892 - not the 81 immortalized in this haunting nursery rhyme.

    “Lizzie Borden took an axe,
    And gave her mother forty whacks;
    When she saw what she had done,
    She gave her father forty-one.”

    To this day, no one knows who committed the murders although Andrew’s youngest daughter, Lizzie, has always been guilty in the court of public opinion. She was acquitted at trial but rumors followed her to her grave. What we do know is that a crime of passion enacted with this much violence can only mean there is more to the story.

    LIZZIE, by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Alan Stevens Hewitt, and Tim Maner, draws its own conclusions about what might have fueled Lizzie Borden’s rage to the point of committing murder, and Color & Light Theatre Ensemble brings that rage to the forefront in a ballsy 90-minute musical character study that is part throat-ripping rock concert, part riveting theatre invention. This is rage rock at its finest and the four women who tell the story have the vocal ability and acting intensity to deliver a moving tale with unrelenting ferocity.

    Jenni Marie Lopez and Leslie Rubino

    Revelations of incest, a forbidden lesbian love affair, and a stepmother with no love for her husband’s children make up the bones of the piece. Director Joanna Syiek’s minimalist staging shows a wicked sense of humor and an ability to create visuals that are streamlined but set to stun.

    Poisonous steam billows from an innocent tea cup, a tangle of dead pigeons cling to a bloodstained sheet, and the meaty flesh of two watermelons makes an enactment of the murders as deliciously spoof-worthy as it is sobering.

    An act break would have come in handy at this climactic moment to help facilitate the tonal shift (and ensuing cleanup). As presented, the current version of the piece is done without an intermission. I’m not certain that’s the right choice.

    Leslie Rubino

    At the center of this macabre universe is an explosive Leslie Rubino who plays Lizzie. Slight of stature and sporting a punk pompadour with a blood red streak, as if to presage later events, we see both her vulnerability and the rage that erupts when the weight of betrayal finally cracks her open. It is a charismatic high-voltage performance, the kind that matters when you consider that stories about sexual abuse and men attempting to suppress a woman’s voice are still staples of the modern daily news cycle.

    In her orbit are three equally fierce women: older sister, Emma (Brooke Van Grinsven); next door neighbor and Lizzie’s eventual lover, Alice (Jenni Marie Lopez); and Bridget, the Borden’s cheeky Irish maid (Samantha LaBreque). Van Grinsven attacks her role with the intensity of a bomb going off and never lets up. Lopez lends balance to the driving assault on your senses in softer scenes with Lizzie but lets it rip when the emotional angst of a number requires her to grind it out. LaBrecque is an amusing addition to the foursome playing a servant with a mind of her own. She’s smarter than she lets on and her face is a running commentary on what is really happening at any given moment.

    L-R: Brooke Van Grinsven, Leslie Rubino and Samantha LaBrecque

    The venue is Resident LA, a club in the DTLA arts district, which adds to the rock concert feel of the evening. It’s the right place with the right atmosphere and it also means the band, led by musical director Jennifer Lin, makes as powerful a statement as the characters. There are only four of them - Lin on keys, Johanna Chase on bass, Carlos Flores on guitar and Nicole Marcus on drums but they sound like they’re opening up the gates of hell. Besides, who doesn’t love seeing a girl drummer?

    Of course, the sound is loud but I appreciated how well the sound team (Corwin Evans-sound design, Eric Huff-sound engineer, James Graham & Kyle Ormiston-sound mix & tech) created a balance that made it still possible to understand the lyrics. That’s incredibly important because the production is sung-through and those songs tell the story.

    Tyler Ledon’s lighting is dramatic and quite saturated. Costumes by Samantha Teplitz do more than simply set the period. They reflect a great deal about each character. For example, Emma is cinched in so tightly at the waist that it seems she’ll burst at any moment from the pent-up rage within her, and Lizzie starts the show in demure black and white but a flash of her tights foreshadows a future Lizzie you know won’t be content to live by the constraints of Victorian repression.

    As the costumes slowly transform to contemporary rock-inspired looks, the show also begins to transcend time and place and connect the sins of the past with the sins of the present. It may be subtext but we can hear it loud and clear. We’re pissed as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

    All of it adds up to a production that doesn’t compromise its message or back off in the way it delivers it. It’s an altogether gripping experience.

    LIZZIE
    September 14-29, 2018
    Color and Light Theatre Ensemble @ Resident LA
    428 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, CA 90013
    Tickets and info: www.lizzielosangeles.com
    For more info about Resident: Residentdtla.com


    Brooke Van Grinsven and Samantha LaBrecque

    Leslie Rubino and Samantha LaBrecque

    Jenni Marie Lopez and Leslie Rubino

    Jenni Marie Lopez, Leslie Rubino and Brooke Van Grinsven

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    Michael J. Feldman (center) with Sheila Carrasco, Greg Worswick,
    Burl Moseley, and Tina Huang. All photos by Jeff Lorch

    Ammunition Theatre Company ventures into the wacky world of fractured fairy tales for its latest production, Fairy Tale Theatre 18 & Over: The Musical. Written and narrated by Michael J. Feldman, with original songs by Jason Currie, the show consists of four sketch comedy skits performed in 90 minutes, no intermission, by a group of energetic actors with mostly stand-up and television backgrounds.

    Singing ability is mixed but the performances are really a showcase for Feldman’s episodic writing and the quirky characters he’s created. What sets them apart from other fairy tale parodies is the playful way he addresses contemporary issues like gender stereotypes, unrequited love, and our obsession with celebrities. Annie McVey, who has directed all of Feldman’s previous installments of Fairy Tale Theatre, once again brings her eye for keeping it real to this current iteration of the series.

    L-R: Sheila Carrasco, Greg Worswick, Burl Moseley, Cloie Wyatt Taylor,
     Jess McKay, and Michael J Feldman

    Two of the best sketches are The Tale of Lucky the Service Dog and The Tale of the Lonely Star. In the former, Feldman transfers the polarizing topic of white privilege to dogs, specifically to those who enjoy “vest privilege” as service dogs and to those who do not. By recreating the prejudices and lack of consideration found in humans, but applying them to our canine friends, he is able to deliver the message that, “Just being aware of your privilege isn’t good enough,” in a story that audiences can laugh at but still get the point.

    In the latter, a lonely star in the sky looks to connect with others to feel less alone. He encounters many groups during his search, each with its own requirements for being part of the gang. In one, all you have to do is “accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” In another, the emphasis is on being physically fit. In yet another, it’s all about the dysfunctional family unit, and Feldman - quite literally - blows it apart. “Can’t we all just believe what we want to believe and get along with each other,” he asks as the journey becomes more complicated than he ever thought it could be.

    This piece also skewers social media and how living our lives through a series of selfies and carefully curated Instagram posts does everything but make a real connection. Think of it as a kind of existential comedy with a goofy cosmic edge, goofy being the operative word.

    Greg Worswick (center) with Sheila Carrasco, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, and Burl Moseley

    Stephen Rowan’s costumes are a dream, created on what can only have been a shoestring budget. It’s hard to pick a favorite from among the silliness but some of the standouts include Greg Worswick’s Unicorn garb (perfect for Greg’s way-out-of-left-field performance), Tina Huang as a melting glacier, all of the dogs, and Michael Feldman’s Blue Star. It’s also uncanny how dressing up Sheila Carrasco as a Silent P or a fish highlights how much she resembles Troubie company member Beth Kennedy. They even make the same crazy faces. Somebody please write the story that puts them in the same show together. Please. It would be comedy gold.

    All of the cast members take their turn in the spotlight and music theatre lovers will be happy to hear references to the Stephens - Sondheim and Schwartz - in a couple of numbers. It’s a lively 90 minutes with an appealing group of funsters who go for it every time they step onstage. More than anything, Fairy Tale Theatre is an escape. And that’s something we all need now and again, along with a reminder to check our assumptions at the door and get over ourselves.

    FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER: THE MUSICAL
    September 14 - October 7, 2018
    Ammunition Theatre Company at The Pico
    10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
    Tickets and info: (323) 628-1622 or AmmunitionTheatre.com
    Ticket Link

    L-R: Matt Cook, Jason Rogel, Jess McKay, and Tina Huang

    Jess McKay, with an amazing Eskimo puppet, and Tina Huang

    The Cast of Fairy Tale Theatre 18 and Over: The Musical - and yes, it is

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    Dorothy

    On Sunday, October 27th,
    Theatre West presented a beautiful new addition to the urban art landscape in Los Angeles with the unveiling of local artist Levi Ponce’s latest mural featuring Judy Garland. Painted in full color and pictured with the Emerald City behind her, the portrait immortalizes one of the most beloved singers of all time in her signature role – Dorothy Gale from the classic 1939 MGM musical, The Wizard of Oz.

    Drivers going south on the 101 freeway through the Cahuenga Pass will get a gorgeous view of the mural off to the right as they pass by the theater. Those familiar with the artist’s body of work will recognize his vivid images and unique style, one that has come to signify the very culture of Los Angeles.

    As part of the event, Ponce received an honorary lifetime membership to Theatre West, which is the longest running theatre company in Los Angeles. Founded in 1962, it has been home to such artists as Betty Garrett, Lee Meriwether, Jack Nicholson, Ray Bradbury, Richard Dreyfuss, Sherwood Schwartz, Sally Field, and Beau Bridges.

    During the presentation, an emotional Ponce talked about his early work, saying he didn’t start out trying to become famous as a muralist. He was “just trying to clean up my street and help my community.”

    Levi Ponce

    His first mural to attract public attention was an image of actor
    Danny Trejo painted on the side of a building in Pacoima where Ponce grew up. Over the next seven years, his murals began to appear all over Los Angeles, from Pacoima to Reseda to Venice. And when Hollywood came knocking, his art gained an even larger following.


    Along the way, he also found that he liked helping other people discover what they’re good at doing too. He has inspired neighbors to work together on community art projects and believes the future is bright when communities work together for common goals. “All the good things that came to me happened because I was participating in my community,” he says. “The best is yet to come.”

    Following the unveiling, the theatre hosted a reception, costume contest, and sing along screening of The Wizard of Oz.

    The artist signs his work

    Lee Meriwether and Levi Ponce

    Levi Ponce and the "Mayor" officially cut the ribbon

    Levi Ponce and David Johnson

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    A storm is brewing in Walt Disney Concert Hall and on November 8, 9 & 10th it will ring to the rafters with gale-force intensity. That’s when director Barry Edelstein and The Old Globe’s major new production of THE TEMPEST lands on stage.

    Susanna Mälkki conducts Sibelius’ evocative music for Shakespeare’s masterpiece about a shipwreck on a magical island, featuring a cast of 27 actors, singers, and dancers, plus the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The fully-staged performance starsLior Ashkenazi as Prospero with Tony Award nominees Beth Malone (Ariel) and Tom McGowan (Caliban), and award-wining stage and screen actor Peter MacNicol (Sebastian) among its cast.

    Drinks in The  Garden special discount:
    For the Friday, November 9th performance, use promo code SOUNDINGPOINT for 20% off terrace-section seats. Then come early Friday night (beginning at 6:30 pm) and enjoy complimentary drinks and a unique view of the DTLA skyline from the Garden. It’s a great way to end your week on a high note.


    SIBELIUS AND SHAKESPEARE: THE TEMPEST
    LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall
    111 South Grand Avenue
    Los Angeles, CA 90012
    CLICK HERE for tickets and more information.

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    L-R: Nathan Nonhof, James Ferrero, Emma Zakes Green, Betsy Moore,
    Megan Rippey  and Ashley Steed. All photos by Mauricio Gomez.

    Maureen Huskey’s new one act play with music The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man takes place wholly in the moment before death. Conceived as a 90 minute suspension of time in which Alice B. Sheldon (Betsy Moore) watches her life pass before her eyes, it blends music, movement, sound, and text to create as enigmatic a piece as the life of its central character. Thats not necessarily a good thing.

    Sheldon was a woman who never felt comfortable in her own skin. Under the pen name James Tiptree, Jr., she would become known as a pioneering science fiction writer whose stories delved into the dark reaches of the human soul. Gender discrimination, violence against women, and issues like genocide and racism would inform her works, fueled by her own experiences in the suffocating social constructs of a male-dominated world.

    Born in 1915, she was 6 when her parents first took her on safari to Africa, a troubling expedition that confirmed she had no power to express herself or make sense of the questions she had about the world. During her teen years she began to explore her previously repressed attraction to women but, at 19, Sheldon eloped and spent the next several years in an abusive marriage that would eventually end in divorce.

    In 1942, she joined the Army as a WAAC and later the CIA, where she met and married a man ten years her senior, Huntingdon Sheldon (Alex Wells). “Ting” as she called him, was aware of her sexual orientation and although the two did not share a romantic relationship, they were comfortable and relatively happy together. He encouraged her to write and, at the age of 50, with the protective barrier of a male pseudonym, she found the personal and creative outlet she’d always longed for.

    L-R: Ashley Steed, Paula Rebelo and Betsy Moore

    Huskey’s examination of the woman whose inner demons eventually got the better of her is a worthy one and imagining it as a departure from one of Tiptree’s sci-fi stories is an interesting way of presenting it. But the play meanders through Sheldon’s life as memories enacted by younger versions of herself (Isabella Ramacciotti at 6, Paula Rebello at 19) while a bewildered Moore looks on. It isn’t possible to discern if the purpose is for clarity, understanding, or simply to review a life that never let her forget she didn’t fit in. And with an ambitious array of performance disciplines employed to tell the story, which unfortunately often stretch beyond the wheelhouse of its ensemble, it loses its impact amid all the confusion.

    The musical background is by world music artist Yuval Ron and is more of a soundscape than a song score. There are songs but all are forgettable within the larger context of the play, instead folding into the kind of generalized cosmic sound you’d expect to hear in a sci-fi film. The overall effect is artsy but ultimately does little to emotionally engage the audience.

    Set designer Eli Smith conjures foggy images of the galaxy and Sheldon’s time machine/space ship with a minimal number of elements. A complicated series of cords is used for characters to step in and out of time periods and create visual interest in the small space. The optics work well within this abstract theatrical world Huskey has created, along with Rose Malones amorphous lighting. As the story starts to short circuit around Sheldon, Martin Carrillo’s evocative sound design takes on an urgency that underscores the play’s impending conclusion.

    Though the sum of its parts does not yet add up dramatically, The Woman Who Went to Space as a Man does fit somewhat more effectively in the landscape of a theatrical tone poem. There the freer style of its content allows more room for the playwright to explore Sheldons fascinating life journey and tragic end without limits. 

    THE WOMAN WHO WENT TO SPACE AS A MAN
    October 27 – November 18, 2018
    Son of Semele
    3301 Beverly Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90004
    Tickets: www.sonofsemele.org

    L-R: Nathan Nonhof, Betsy Moore, Isabella Ramacciotti, Anneliese Euler,
    Robert Paterno, Megan Rippey and Ashley Steed

    L-R: Nathan Nonhof, Betsy Moore and Paula Rebelo

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    Julie Makerov. Photo by Shawn Flint Blair

    How does a busy soprano balance career, family, motherhood, and art? If that soprano is Julie Makerov, it’s all about scheduling and planning ahead of time. Makerov, who will be appearing as one of four soloists with LA’s Verdi Chorusthis weekend at First United Methodist Church in Santa Monica, says that’s the key to managing all of her commitments.

    In a nutshell, “It’s about not saying yes to too much. I recently started my first year teaching two classes at Orange County School of the Arts. I also have seven private voice students and I’m on the board of directors at OperaWorks. It is a juggle but it’s worth it.”

    With an impressive international career to her credit, Makerov admits she loves to travel but says the current phase of her personal and professional evolution means she is entering a period of less time on the road and more time spent closer to home. “I slowly decided that’s what I wanted. I have my hands in a lot of things but I wanted to make sure that my family life was taking priority. That’s hard for me to do when I’m traveling a lot. Plus, I felt really strongly that this was the next phase of my artistry; to take what I’ve learned and help other people.”

    Which brings it back to her students. Makerov is often asked how she takes care of her voice and her advice is the same as that which she observes herself. At the top of the list are the big three: “I make sure that I’m hydrated systemically, so lots of water, good nutrition, and lots of sleep. You have to get a lot of sleep and that’s very difficult to do when you’re trying to balance being a busy mom, a busy teacher, and having a busy life with taking care of the instrument enough to perform well. I remind my students to use their air when they speak and cultivate those really good habits throughout the day so that when they go to sing the voice is there for them already.”

    As for who helps her get dinner on the table, a forthright Makerov laughs and says, “It’s called a crockpot! Ask me who does the laundry too – I do.”

    Julie Makerov as Rusalka with the Canadian Opera Company.
    Photo courtesy of the artist.

    Over the course of her lengthy career, Makerov has played a wide range of characters. On the upcoming program with Verdi Chorus, she will be portraying a queen, a courtesan, a simple girl who poisons her mother and drowns her child, and a woman who leaves home rather than marry a man she doesn’t love and eventually throws herself off a cliff. Dramatic? Yes. It’s the stuff opera is made of. And, although she has not lived the same experiences as these particular characters, Makerov says creating them is all about making an emotional connection. It’s a thoughtful approach, one she says is required of every singer.


    “None of the characters I’ve played have much to do with my day to day life. I can, however, draw upon their emotion. For example, I’ve sung Butterfly [from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly] several times and, at the time, I was in my late twenties/early thirties, Caucasian, and 5’9” – not necessarily what one would think of as Butterfly, right?

    Two things: first of all, the music does an incredible amount of the work for you. So, if you sit back and let the composer do what he intended to do, that takes a lot of the weight off of you. The second thing is that if a singer goes through and ingests the words, if you really digest what you’re singing and find a way to relate to it personally, it is very possible to connect with the emotions rather than the specific story.

    Take the scene in which Butterfly is waiting for Pinkerton to come back. She’s holding a picture with two hands and she says, ‘He with heart swollen/to hide from me the suffering/smiling he answered/tiny little wife/I’ll return with the roses in the season serene/I’ll make the nest says the robin/he’ll return/he’ll return/say it with me/he’ll return.’

    Now, does that have anything to do with my life? No. Can one relate with a girl standing there waiting for somebody to return to her who she has basically given everything for and is convincing herself, and everybody around her, that he’s going to come back and love her? Yes. That’s very easily relatable, but the singer has to delve into the music and the words. When they do, it doesn’t take long before a person begins to feel for these characters.

    Our job is to take the audience on an emotional journey, and if we are not specific about guiding the audience through that journey they won’t be guided. If we’re not thinking about what we’re saying, if we’re not familiar with it, we can’t actually move our audience at all. Any career takes discipline. We all have deadlines. We all have things we have to do. We have to discipline ourselves for that. But, beyond that, very specifically, in our business our job is to move an audience.”

    Julie Makerov as Tosca with Brandon Jovanovich (Cavaradossi) in the
    Canadian Opera Company production of Tosca. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

    So, can she tell in performance when that happens? “A hundred per cent. Because the energy of the collective audience shifts. You know when they get it, when they are invested in what you’re saying, and, when they’re not, a hundred per cent of the time it’s because the singer is not thinking about where they are, what they’re doing, who the character is, what the show is. They’re not in it. They’re thinking about their voice and themselves.”

    All of the pieces she will be singing this weekend on the program for Verdi Chorus’ Passione! Opera! Concert are ones she loves but she has a special affection for two of the arias. “L’altra note in fondo al mare [from Mefistofele] was one of the pieces I sang that got me to the top ten in the Met competition in 2003, so it’s dear to me and I love it. And I sang Ebben? Ne andrò lontana [from La Wally] in a production in Frankfurt and it is just beautiful.”

    Rest assured, there will be no shortage of gorgeous music on November 10 & 11th as Makerov and her fellow artists join Anne Marie Ketchum and the Verdi Chorus for an evening of red hot passion, the kind only opera can do best.

    For a look at the rest of the program, tickets, and more information, visit www.verdichorus.org. Parking is free and a reception follows each concert where you can meet the artists.


    THE VERDI CHORUS: Passione! Opera!
    November 10 (7:30 pm) and November 11 (2:00 pm)
    First United Methodist Church
    1008 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90403
    Tickets: $10 - $40 (800) 838-3006 or www.verdichorus.org
    Founding Artistic Director: Anne Marie Ketchum
    Guest soloists: Julie Makerov, Janelle DeStefano, Todd Wilander, and Gabriel Manro
    Accompanist: Laraine Ann Madden

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    Mandy Foster stars as Emma. All photos by Benjamin Busch.

    Jane Austen’s enduring love story comes to life in this enchanting musical comedy. Emma, a well-meaning, but disaster-prone matchmaker who ignores her own romantic feelings sets out to find a suitor for her friend Harriet. Her efforts lead to comic complications but, in the end, all adds up to happy romance. It’s just the thing to make you feel good this holiday season and perfect for the entire family, ages 4 and up. Now through December 23rd at Chance Theater. Tickets: www.chancetheater.com

    Mandy Foster as Emma and Jeff Lowe as Mr. Knightley

    Zoya Martin and Kristofer Buxton as Harriet Smith and Robert Martin

    Megan McCarthy as Jane Fairfax, Gavin Cole as Frank Churchill,
    and Kristofer Buxton as Robert Martin

    Mandy Foster as Emma and Coleton Ray as Mr. Elton

    Glenn Koppel as Mr. Woodhouse and Jeff Lowe as Mr. Knightley

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    The Company of Come From Away. All photos by Matthew Murphy

    My one big recommendation this holiday season is an easy one – go see Come From Away at the Ahmanson. That’s it. The world’s a tough place right now and this musical will restore your faith in humanity in every way possible. Best of all, it doesn’t do it with glitz and tricks and over-the-top extravaganza. It does it by telling a story of simple people with good hearts whose kindness during a horrific disaster serves as an inspiration for us all.

    When 38 planes were rerouted to Gander, Newfoundland following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th, this small town cared for the thousands of frightened and confused “plane people” as if they were members of their own family. The world had never seen such selflessness but, in their minds, the citizens of Gander were just doing the right thing. It’s a lesson we desperately need to be reminded of this Christmas as we look around and find ourselves in the midst of a country burdened by divisive rhetoric and inhumane actions.

    Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein capture the spirit of the pragmatic, cheerful townsfolk in both story and score, the former narrated by characters speaking directly to the audience and also recreating the various quick-cut scenes, the latter a jovial blend of folk, Celtic, and upbeat rock themes with straightforward lyrics. Thankfully, there isn’t a pretentious bone in this musical’s body.

    The cast of Come From Away

    It unfolds on a simple but beautiful set, designed by Beowulf Boritt and lit by Howell Binkley, that functions as a scrolling canvas against which scenes play out like a collage come to life. The driving forward motion of the show succeeds in adding urgency without turning melodramatic. And, at its center is a big, old beating heart that encompasses everyone within its reach.

    Christopher Ashley won a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for his work on Come From Away and watching how he weaves together all of the elements so intelligently, and with such sensitivity, is worth the price of admission alone, but it doesn’t stop there. The acting company offers one of the finest examples of ensemble integration in a musical, with each of them an essential part of the show. Most play multiples roles, swapping characters and accents with detailed precision.

    Each of their stories lands its own blow to that swelling heart, from Becky Gulsvig (Beverly), singing about the incredible feeling being “the first female American captain in history” to James Earl Jones II (Bob), who is sent to take barbeque grills from all of the locals’ backyards convinced he is going to get shot, to Nick Duckart, the Muslim chef humiliated beyond belief in the interest of security.

    Becky Gulsvig and the cast of Come From Away

    Two mothers (Julie Johnson-Beulah and Danielle K. Thomas-Hannah) find solace in their shared understanding of what it is to have a firefighter son, while two other passengers (Christine Toy Johnson-Diane and Chamblee Ferguson-Nick) unexpectedly find romance. Mayor Claude (Kevin Carolan) and Garth (Andrew Samonsky), head of the bus drivers’ union, clash over local differences but are quick to set them aside to assist their “come from aways” (what islanders call anyone not from their town) during the emergency. Even the animals find a champion in Bonnie (Megan McGinnis), a resolute young woman who isn’t about to let anyone stop her from caring for their needs as well.

    The generosity of these kind and quirky characters, and all of the others brought to life in Come From Away, give hope that there are good people in the world who know what it is to be a decent human being. Kindness takes courage and, in a time of adversity, the islanders of Gander, Newfoundland showed the world a shining example of what is best in us all. As we continue to celebrate the holidays, with their messages of peace on earth and goodwill to all, may we not forget how much it is still needed now.

    COME FROM AWAY
    November 28, 2018 – January 6, 2019
    Ahmanson Theatre
    601 W Temple Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012
    213-972-4400 or www.centertheatregroup.org

    Center: Christine Toy Johnson (Diane), James Earl Jones II (Bob)
    and Harter Clingman (Oz) with the cast of Come From Away 

    Nick Duckart and Andrew Samonsky as Kevn and Kevin (foreground),
    Kevin Carolyn as Mayor Claude (center) and the cast of Come From Away

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    The countdown to Christmas begins and ends with an all-out love blitz this year in For the Record’s latest world premiere, Love Actually Live a hybrid entertainment that blends scenes from Richard Curtis’ 2003 film Love Actually with live performances of the movie’s soundtrack. Co-produced by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, it is a celebration of love in all its messy, complicated, wonderful glory in a Las Vegas-style vision designed to impress.

    Multiple screens are incorporated into an enormous breakaway set (scenic design by Matt Steinbrenner, lighting by Michael Berger, video design by Aaron Rhyne) that opens up in a number of exciting ways to create the many interiors and exteriors, intimate moments, large production numbers, and quirky configurations needed for the performance. An exceptional 15-piece orchestra frames the stage with most of its members positioned on a raised landing on either side of a twinkling Christmas tree. Strings, and conductor Jesse Vargas (who is also responsible for the musical supervision and terrific arrangements and orchestrations), are located downstage in their own box. The effect is overwhelmingly beautiful.


    Add 17 singers whose American Idol-ized vocals drew catcalls and much applause on opening night and the result is a fusion of elements that embodies what For the Record does best - create uncommon theatrical entertainment that begins and ends with a film and its music.

    This is a continuously moving performance, which doesn’t often stop for a breath, as film sequences cut to snippets of live singing, or overlap in a layered set of simultaneous scenes and songs. The downside is a tendency for ensemble singers to overdo their facial expressions and push their vocals in a desire to make the most out of their short stage time.

    On the plus side, you get an Aurelia (Olivia Kuper Harris) whose smoky, indie sound is a luscious surprise as Jamie’s (Steve Kazee) Portuguese housekeeper, and a jazzy “White Christmas” sung by B. Slade (Peter) that will take your breath away. Rumer Willis disappears into her dual roles of Peter’s fiancée Juliet (played by Keira Knightly in the film) and office vixen Mia with chameleon-like skill (and an assist from two great wigs by Cassie Russek). Zak Resnick will break your heart as Daniel (Liam Neeson’s role), the stepdad navigating fatherhood on his own. Carrie Manolakos power belts her way to the end of Act I on Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble With Love Is” leaving the audience on a blistering high.

    Rex Smith and backup girls

    But the character who wraps the audience around his little finger every time he steps on stage is lovable Rex Smith as aging rock star, Billy Mack (played by Bill Nighy in the film). Smith pulls out all his star power and comic gusto for a show stopping opening number and final scene you’ll be talking about all the way out to the parking lot.All of the characters are represented - yes, even the porn couple - so if you’ve only watched the film on cable recently rest assured they don’t get edited out here.

    Director Anderson Davis has an elegant solution for their scenes which makes the production appropriate for ages 13 and over but note that there is still brief nudity on screen. Davis also incorporates some of the film’s most charming surprises into his direction and the results live are equally as lovely on stage. Even if you know they’re coming, in the moment they will delight you.

    As entertainment goes, For the Record’s Love Actually Live is a dazzling spectacle of celluloid and sound, music and magic, brightly packaged for the romantic in us all and best shared with someone you love.

    LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE
    December 4 – 31, 2018
    Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
    9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd
    Beverly Hills, CA 90210
    Tickets: www.thewallis.org


    Photos above by Lawrence K. Ho
    Photos below by Kevin Parry

    Rumer Willis

    B. Slade

    Steve Kazee

    Sean Yves Lessard and Carrie Manolakos

    Love Actually Live

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    The cast of The Year Without a Santana Claus. All photos by Ed Krieger

    What would Christmas in LA be without the Troubies? A lot less funny.

    Happily, artistic director, writer, and head jokester Matt “Mashup” Walker and his coterie of clowns aren’t about to let anyone down. Not only are they back with their seventeenth annual holiday show, they’re proving just how smart they really are when it comes to delivering a performance that has its finger on the pulse of what’s happening now.

    That being the case, it’s the women who save the day in this year’s holiday extravaganza, The Year Without a Santana Claus, specifically a spicy Mrs. Claus (Giana Bommarito) and a sexy Mother Nature (Cloie Wyatt Taylor). Typically content to remain in the background, these two partner up to save Christmas in a modern day twist on the 1974 Rankin & Bass stop-motion television special, adapted by Walker and fleshed out by the improv talents of the jovial ensemble. It’s a 2018 update that is so clever it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before.

    The whole inclusive nature of the show also makes it a perfect Christmas story for the many flavors of our multicultural city. Throw in some circus-style enhancements, great choreography, and a few magic tricks, and it’s Christmas Troubie style, the most pun-derful time of the year.

    Rick Batalla on guitar

    The show stars a waggish bare-chested bilingual Santa Claus (Rick Batalla) playing Santana’s greatest hits on his electric guitar and bemoaning the world’s lack of Christmas spirit. In a Troubie show, individual talents always come into play and the reveal that Batalla is actually good on that red Stratocaster is this year’s jewel in the crown. That the house band sounds like they’re ready to go on the road is no surprise either. The musicians showcased in every Troubie production, and the (uncredited) arrangements they play, give these kooky parodies actual street cred. For this show it is Ryan Whyman on keyboards, Matt Hornbeck on guitar, Blake Estrada on bass, and Nick Stone on percussion who elevate the proceedings into classic Latin rock territory on nearly a dozen Santana favorites.

    Retooled songs like “Oye Como Va” which opens the show and makes a splashy, colorful introduction; Mother Nature’s bluesy “Black Magic Woman”; and “No One to Depend On” sung by a disgruntled little girl named Judy (Chelle Denton) who feels Santa has abandoned her, are creatively worked into the characters’ storylines.

    Dueling brothers Snow Miser (Beth Kennedy, when she’s not playing a googly-eyed elf named Jingles) and a petulant Heat Miser (one of many terrific offbeat characters Walker plays) each have their own full-on production number. Of course Snowy gets the Santana/Rob Thomas megahit “Smooth” as Kennedy brings back yet another winter figure to portray the role in a long-running annual gag regulars will love.

    It takes a fair amount of artistic license to get the job done and that is exactly what the audience is looking for. “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh!” like the song says. This latest holiday confection does that and more. It’s safe to say, if you don’t have a good time it’s yer own dang fault.

    THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTANA CLAUS
    December 8-30, 2018
    Troubadour Theater Company at
    The El Portal Theatre
    11206 Weddington Street
    North Hollywood, CA 91601
    Tickets: (818) 508-4200 or www.elportaltheatre.com

    Jess Coffman and Luis "L.T." Martinez as Dancer and Prancer
    with Rick Batalla and Giana Bommarito

    Beth Kennedy and Matt Walker

    Rick Batalla and goofiest bunch of elves you've ever seen

    Beth Kennedy, Rick Batalla, Ginan Bommarito and Matt Walker

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    Phil LaMarr (Tin Woodman), Mackenzie Ziegler(Doroth), Juan Pablo
    Di Pace (Lion) and Jared Gertner (Scarecrow)

    Catch the world premiere of Lythgoe Family Panto’s The Wonderful Winter of Oz now through December 30th at Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Bring the whole family and enjoy a fun-filled modern twist on the story of Dorothy Gale, who finds herself swept away by a freak Kansas blizzard (instead of a tornado) and winds up in the land of Oz where Kermit the Frog is the wizard with all the answers. Tickets: www.thepasadenacivic.com Photos by Philicia Endelman.

    Kermit The Frog as The Wizard of Oz

    Marissa Jaret Winokur (Glinda), Mackenzie Ziegler (Dorothy) and
    The Youth Talents of Los Angeles as The Munchkins

    Juan Pablo Di Pace (Lion), Jared Gertner (Scarecrow) and Phil LaMarr (Tin Woodman)

    Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer as The Wicked Witch of The West

    Pickle C. Irwin as Toto and Mackenzie Ziegler as Dorothy

    Marissa Jaret Winokur as Glinda and Kermit The Frog as The Wizard

    Phil LaMarr (Tin Woodman), Juan Pablo Di Pace (Lion) and Jared Gertner (Scarecrow)

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